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Characteristics of a Rockies shutdown

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And an exploration of whether the Rockies have benefited from facing weak starting pitching.

Jamie Sabau

The Rockies have scored a lot of runs this year. As a matter of fact, they have scored the most runs. But that's not too surprising. The Rockies field a very strong lineup and play their home games at Coors Field. But occasionally even high scoring teams get shackled, whether due to solid pitching or just a general team-wide funk.

There have been 15 games this year where the Rockies have scored three or fewer runs. Are there any defining characteristics of these contests that stand out? Do they all happen on the road? Did the Rockies simply face a collection of ace pitchers? Let's take a look.

Games in which the Rockies scored three or fewer runs:

3/31 at Miami (Jose Fernandez [2013 ERA: 2.19, 2013 rWAR: 6.3]),

4/1 at Miami (Nate Eovaldi, 3.39, 2.2),

4/6 at home (Wade Miley, 3.55, 1.3),

4/12 at SF (w) (Matt Cain, 4, 0.5),

4/15 at SD (w) (Robbie Erlin, 4.12, 0.3),

4/16 at SD (Andrew Cashner, 3.09, 2.4),

4/19 at home (w) (Kyle Kendrick, 4.70, 1),

4/22 at home (w) (Madison Bumgarner, 2.77, 3.8),

4/26 at LA (Paul Maholm, 4.41, -0.1),

5/4 at home (Dillon Gee, 3.62, 2.2),

5/8 at Tex (Matt Harrison, 3.29, 6.1, numbers from 2012 due to missed 2013),

5/9 at CIN(Johnny Cueto, 2.82, 1.4),

5/11 at CIN (Homer Bailey, 3.49, 3.2),

5/13 at KC (James Shields, 3.15, 4.1),

5/14 at KC (Jason Vargas, 4.02, 1.8).

The deets: 11 of 15 shutdowns were on the road. That is not unexpected. Five of the fifteen have occurred in a six game stretch (ongoing). The Rockies have still managed to pull out four victories while scoring three runs or fewer, which is honestly more than I expected. The average 2013 ERA of the opposing starters in those contests was 3.51 and their average WAR was 2.4. That doesn't seem to indicate that the Rockies faced a passel of aces, but there are a number of ways those numbers could have been skewed. Let's group those starters into subsets.

Aces: Jose Fernandez, Madison Bumgarner, Andrew Cashner (?), Johnny Cueto, James Shields

No real shame in getting shut down by these fellas. I hesitated to put Cashner in there, because he doesn't have too long a track record, but when he's healthy enough to start he's devastating, so I included him.

Solidly above average (#2 or #3 starters): Eovaldi, Miley, Cain, Gee, Harrison, Bailey, Shields

These guys are all capable of having great days and shutting down good offenses. You don't want to lose to these guys regularly, but they'll get you every now and then.

Number 4's or worse: Erlin, Kendrick, Maholm, Vargas

There's no real excuse to fail to score three runs against these guys (especially the Kendrick game at Coors). You could make the case that Vargas belongs in the above average tier, but I get such Jeff Francis vibes from him that I couldn't bump him up. These games were missed opportunities.

Now comes the point in the article in which we should draw conclusions. Problem is, I'm not sure what they are. The majority of shutdowns have come against good to great pitchers, which I suppose is somewhat comforting; if you're going to get handcuffed it might as well be against the best.

The problem seems to be that the Rockies haven't yet shown an ability to score consistently against above average pitching. Apart from a few good games against Hyun-Jin Ryu, Matt Cain, and Brandon McCarthy (neither of whom are elite) the Rockies haven't had good games against strong pitching yet this year. Looking through the game logs, it really seems like the Rockies have benefited from facing below average starters. When they did run into the best in the league, they got shut down.

The Rockies offense has been lauded as a juggernaut. They have certainly earned it with the numbers they have accumulated. But the best offenses also have to figure out ways to score against the elite pitchers as well as the weaker ones. Can the Rockies win a series when Bumgarner, Hudson, and Cain are pitching? Can they take two of three from Kershaw, Greinke, and Ryu? I'm starting to wonder if this is a team that feasts on weaker pitchers while proving hapless against the best.